Portland, Oregon, is brimming with urban wineries.
For me as a beer guy, Portland is Beervana, but the Rose City is also showing signs of becoming Spiritvana and Winevana. There are four dozen breweries within city limits and it took me two years to visit them all. Now, there’s a baker’s dozen urban wineries and I hit most of them all in an afternoon.
Yes, wineries in Portland. A good chunk of visitors and even residents are unaware that entrepreneurs are making wine in the city since, hello, where are the vines? It’s a common misconception winemakers battle that vineyards are wineries and alternately, all wineries must have vineyards—so, in Portland, they created PDX Urban Wineries to do fruit-forward, slightly tannic community outreach. Founded in 2011 with six wineries, membership has grown to nine (meaning there are about four such urban wineries that don’t know how to play well with others). I was invited to ride The Short Bus to tour them.
Get on the Short Bus
The tour began at the winery that started it all, Hip Chicks Do Wine. Launched in 2001 by Laurie Lewis and Renee Neely, Hip Chicks is located in industrial SE-PDX where we started (we wouldn’t sample their wares until the end of the tour). The itinerary had us grapetrotting from Southeast to North Portland, so it’s a good thing we had our PDX Urban Wineries Passports out. The passport, from the creator of the similarly incentivizing Distillery Row Passport, entailed our stops at the following:
Alchemy (3315 SE 19th Ave., Ste F). Situated next to a coffee roaster, a distiller, and an undies-of-the-month club, this 1,000 square foot winery is all about Rhone varietals. Nic Donahue runs Alchemy with his wife Gracey and he poured samples of Edwin Dyer Syrah, a pleasantly dry, earthy wine made entirely from Oregon fruit. They produced only 700 cases of wine in the last year, about half of their eventual goal.
Seven Bridges (2303 N. Harding Ave). Filling 4,000 square feet, this still-small winery felt comparatively spacious and even features a relaxing lounge area with seating. With an emphasis on Bordeaux varietals, I enjoyed the bigger, fruitier Cabernet (with grapes trucked in from the Yakima Valley) poured by Bob Switzer, who, along with partner Kevin Ross, transitioned from “hobby” winemakers to pros in 2008. They’ve grown to produce 1,500 cases annually.
Jan-Marc (2110 N. Ainsworth St.). It’s pretty awesome heading down a residential street and seeing an open garage door revealing oak barrels stacked to the ceiling and realizing that this dude runs a winery out of his garage. I’ve seen these in the beer world—nano-breweries squeezed into the corner of a garage or shed. Jan-Marc Baker runs a very clean, tiny operation that yields 800 cases/year. He said it was surprisingly easy to get the permit and hence, six years after he and his wife Barbara made their foray into winemaking, founded Jan-Marc Wine Cellars in 2009. In addition to being vintners, the Bakers are private chefs who lean toward French food and aspire to open a pub in the neighborhood. Until that day, the winery is only open by appointment, but if the garage is open, come on in. Definitely try the Chardonnay, but don’t miss their soft yet elaborate Pinot Noir.
Enso (1416 SE Stark). Enso’s like a mullet: business up front, party in the back. Walk in and you might think this hip space is “just” a wine pub, one that vows to always have a wine from each PDXUW member. But keep walking and you’ll see the winery.
It was my first time trying, or even hearing of, a Counoise, typically relegated to blending with other grapes but, as winemaker Ryan Sharp described it, the result tastes like raspberries with “dusty tannins” for a bright, enjoyable glass of wine. I’m now looking forward to the release of their “orange wine.” Nope, no oranges were crushed or stomped in the making of this wine. This hybrid-style wine is made like white wine, only fermented on the skins like a red. It’s a totally bizarre style which, I found similar to Lambics or wild ales. So it’s fitting that Enso is directly adjacent to the new beer bar honestly titled Beer.
Southeast Wine Collective (2425 SE 35th Place). In the beer world, there’s a new concept called a co-op brewery where brewers, rather than brew gypsy-style at someone else’s brewing facility, co-operatively own a shared brewing system. The SEWC is a similar concept, except the winemakers don’t own it, but they still play (and work) nicely with one another. Of the four resident wineries, we first met Vincent of Vincent Wine Company who poured us his sanguine Pinot Noir, Helioterrra’s crisp, apply Pinot Blanc (before the red, don’t worry or think us gauche), and Division’s citric Red Collar Chardonnay. Quite a hat trick under one roof. Now that I know they do a brunch the last Sunday of each month (served with mimosas not “breakfast wines,” I’m glad I live within walking distance.
Hip Chicks Do Wine (4510 SE 23rd Avenue). Good thing the chicks put out sandwich boards directing visitors to their space because otherwise it’d be impossible to find. Probably the largest of the wineries, there’s plenty of space to hang-out and shop. Their Vin Nombril is referred to as “Belly Button Wine,” a sweet white wine blended with Pinot Gris and Muscat grapes. Wine Bunny Rouge is called a “party in a bottle,” and consistis of Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet (both Sav and Franc), and Zinfandel. The Malbec itself has earned at least a few awards (on display).
So what did I learn about urban wineries (and the men and women who intrepidly run them) on my Short Bus tour of Portland’s wineries? Well, vintners are better dressed than brewers for one (they lean toward sweaters over hoodies). And, by and large, they seem to hail from California wine regions, but prefer Portland’s zeitgeist of nearby farm-to-bottle production for a city that loves locally-made drink. And lastly, I suspect or hope that the ones that have planted grapevines have done so for decorative purposes. Urban streets don’t make good terroir. Just like you don’t see fields of barley at any of Portland’s breweries, you don’t need a vineyard to make excellent vino. — By Brian Yaeger, RFT Beer Editor
Brew expert and RFT Beer Editor Brian Yaeger is realfoodtraveler.com’s newest editor.